The Red Cross of Howard County has stepped up its appeal for blood donations during a serious blood shortage.

The situation "is quite critical," said Bobbie Jones, director of donor resources for the Chesapeake and Potomac areas. "If we had an accident, then it would create problems."

At the donor center in Columbia, blood supplies are extremely low, said Jones. The center has only a half-day supply of blood, she said. Typically, it would have a two-day supply.

Blood supplies throughout Central Maryland have been low this summer. Red Cross officialssay a record heat spell in May forced many blood drives to close early. Several others were canceled because of mumps and measles outbreaks. Also, many people who typically give an annual blood donation during the summer months, gave earlier in the year in response to the Persian Gulf war, said Linda Klein, spokesman for the Central Maryland Red Cross.

In addition, layoffs at some companies also have meant fewer donors at company-sponsored blood drives, she said.

"We collect more than half of our blood from companies," Klein said. She saidabout 15 percent to 20 percent of the decline this summer stems fromthe fewer numbers of workers at those companies.

Supplies of types O and B blood are particularly low, Klein said.

To combat the shortage, the donor center in Columbia has indefinitely extended its hours.

The center, at 10 Corporate Center, Little Patuxent Parkway, is open two extra hours Monday through Thursday, and an extra hour Saturday. The new hours are 2 to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 9a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

"We are hoping the extra hours will allow people to come in and donate," saidJones.

The Red Cross also is scheduling its staff to work extra hours, is developing a more rigorous telemarketing campaign, and is soliciting more volunteers.

This summer, the number of pints being donated to the center has declined significantly.

In August last year, 814 people donated blood, while only 618 have donated this August. The donor center had a goal of 910 last month.

Blood drive donations in the county also are down to 260 from the 340 pints donated inAugust last year, said Tim Silcott, coordinator of the Howard Countyblood drives.

In addition, the numbers are down from earlier thissummer compared to last year.

From May through July of last year,3,899 pints were donated to the center and collected from blood drives throughout the county. Only 3,508 were donated during the same period this year.

For information about donating blood, call (800) 272-0024 or 764-4619.

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